David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.
We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!
Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.
“The Beast Below”
Season five, episode two
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
This is one of those favourite stories of mine that I tend to forget because of so many other favourites in this season – one of the things I especially love is the set up. The whole concept of a Starship UK, and the way a whole culture tries to recreate its past on a moving ship is fascinating to me, and all the little details of it make the place feel real – even if it is based on a lie.
The fact that there is something not quite right with Starship UK is evident right from the start, I love the way that it is the children who are aware of it and have built their own little rules to navigate it safely. The Smilers are delightfully creepy, too.
The Smilers are the reason Raeli can’t rewatch this episode! It has a real Stephen King vibe at the beginning, all sinister fairground motifs and children being aware of dangers while adults are blithely oblivious (or pretending to be so – not sure which is scarier)
What a fibber the Doctor is!
“An important thing. In fact, Thing One. We are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.”
How he said that with a straight face, I have no idea.
I love that they set up through the narrative both that he is lying but also perhaps that he genuinely is fooling himself? The Doctor needs a certain degree of pomposity and it’s good that Amy is being shown this early on that it’s her job to question his grandiose statements about the universe.
(Thing One of course maps beautifully on to River Song’s Rule One but we’re not quite there yet)
One of the things we have seen over and over in Doctor Who is a very British future. While many other science fiction shows have a US slant, or even a sort of homogenised United Nations feel, we have seen lots of British influences and I for one love it!
I hope we run into Starship Scotland someday. But I agree, the gratuitous BRITISHNESS of the future is almost parodic here but it also is a lovely nod towards the history of Doctor Who and the various futures we have been shown since 1963.
The parallels between the Star Whale and the Doctor are made overt in this – I suppose if we consider Eleven as a jumping on point for people, reiterating some of the things long-time watchers know (last of his race, alone, kind) are important. I remember them being so for me. And isn’t it interesting to see the differences in reactions between Nine, Ten and Eleven when asked about the Time Lords?
It’s less raw for him now, perhaps? And of course, this time around he’s had a chance to see what would happen if they came back…
It’s a good point that you make about the Doctor’s differing reactions when asked about the Time Lords, Tehani. I wouldn’t say he is at peace, but there is an air of quiet resignation, almost acceptance, when he talks about them that is in stark contrast to Nine especially. We’ve been on a journey with the Doctor, and there is no doubt that he is in a different place than we started.
There is also a nice little tease here when Amy asks him if he is a parent. Tansy is probably better placed to comment on this, but we’ve never really clarified all that much about the Doctor’s family, though there has been all sorts of conjecture. But, if Susan is his granddaughter (and that is a big if), then it stands to reason that the Doctor is also a father. Interesting.
As was pointed out to me recently on the Verity podcast, of course back in the 60’s no one would have questioned this at all – why would the Doctor NOT be Susan’s grandfather if he said he was? I think it was only later fandom in 80s, so secure in the Doctor’s identity as someone who was in no way sexual, who decided otherwise.
New Who, along with making the Doctor more aware of human notions of sexuality, has also already identified him as a dad back in “Fear Her” – though like being a grandfather, that could be an honorary title.
Has the Doctor always been so angry at humanity for the terrible things they do? Amy cops the brunt of his anger, even though Liz 10 is really a more appropriate target! Listening to Splendid Chaps the other day and they mention it in relation to the Seventh Doctor, which is interesting to me (I’ve seen so little Classic Who I remember, and almost none outside of the Tom Baker era). Nine and Ten both showed this at various times – how far back does it go?
He’s quite mean to Amy in this one, which is an element I really don’t like – very harsh on her in a way reminiscent of Eccleston with Mickey or Adam. The Doctor is hot and cold about humans, honestly. Sometimes he’s supremely scathing and other times he loves them to bits. It’s an unhealthy relationship really! Hartnell despised most people but not humanity specifically – Pertwee had some definite anti-human moments, notably when the Brigadier was blowing things up as with the Silurians. Tom Baker praised humans for being ‘indomitable’ in one story and yet sneered at them in others. Like the Doctor being ‘non-violent’ there’s so many exceptions that it’s practically a rule.
It’s interesting that the thing that he gets angriest about (other than the imprisonment of the Star Whale, of course) is something he does to his companions, and those around him, all the time! There have been plenty of times that the Doctor has decided what others need to know, with varying results. Ace in “The Curse of Fenric” is an extreme example, but there are plenty of others.
I do think he was overly harsh, but he did have a point. For all Amy knew, the Star Whale might have simply shrugged off the whole city before even realising it!
Ha yes, she gets away with her random behaviour purely because she is lucky. But then the Doctor does that all the time – gets (mostly) good results from random life choices.
This episode is as much about establishing Amy’s character (impulsive, observant, curious, caring) as it is about new viewers learning about the Doctor. She seems to have an almost instinctive understanding of how the Doctor works – she’s been travelling with him approximately five minutes, but she already knows him well enough to know that he will not be happy about the Star Whale situation…
I love that she solves it by seeing an option that he doesn’t – and saves him from doing something terrible. And the scene of them being swallowed by the whale is quite funny and entertaining – possibly one of the grossest Doctor-companion bonding moments of all time.
That’s spot on, Tehani. Straight away we discover the sort of companion Amy is going to be, that she is filled with a sense of wonder, but refuses to be overawed by anything, including the Doctor. I don’t think the multiple mentions of her Scottish heritage are coincidental, she is being deliberately painted as independent minded, and unwilling simply to take answers at face value.
It’s interesting that we are now seeing a tradition where companions are pretty much auditioned for the role over their first few stories, as if there’s some kind of probationary period – or an exam they might (like Adam) fail terribly. There’s always the possibility that the Doctor might fail them and dump them home at any minute – and while it is more realistic to show the companion developing the skills needed to travel with the Doctor over a number of stories, there is a power dynamic to it that is a bit uncomfortable. More so here than in “The End of the World”, say, or “Gridlock”, but I do think it’s an element they could back away from.
I especially don’t like the Doctor’s quickness to condemn Amy in this story because frankly, after the events of “The Eleventh Hour”, why can’t we see him failing to live up to HER expectations which must be massively over-inflated after all these years?
Yes, considering how much he has to live up to in Amy’s eyes, and how much she’s already been let down by him, it’s a bit rich!
Something I found fascinating about this season (because of course having kids who love the merch) is that the toy manufacturers picked out elements that they thought would be important and iconic ahead of time, and made the toys accordingly with some very mixed results. The Smilers in this one were evidently supposed to catch on, because they turned up in the Character Options not-Lego and I think got an action figure too. The priesty bloke in this also turned up on some of the merchandise – and yet the toy people didn’t realise that Liz10 was the OBVIOUSLY most visually interesting character in the episode?
Oh, I didn’t know that! I’m not much into the merch (the bits I have so far are TOTALLY PRACTICAL!) so it’s not something I’d notice. But that’s what happens when they don’t let people like us make such decision. 🙂
Liz10 springs off the page, a fascinating character, so complex and flawed with a hell of a backstory. I love how she starts out like a Cockney space mercenary like Han Solo, and yet reverts to her more refined Queen persona – and that she has been working out the mystery all along, just as the Doctor does, only she’s done it dozens of times over.
Fun fact, Sophie Okonedo (Liz10) was the companion in “The Scream of the Shalka”, a webcast audio/animation written by Paul Cornell which was intended to relaunch Doctor Who in 2003 before the actual show was recommissioned and buried the project. Richard E Grant played the Ninth Doctor in it, and Derek Jacobi was the Master. It’s coming out on DVD imminently!
That IS a fun fact! And I think that might have just come out – sounds cool!
Liz10 is the standout character in this for me. You may not agree with her moral choices, but there is something tragically regal about the way she has taken on the burden of responsibility for her subjects, in a way parallelling how the Star Whale carries the city.
While I absolutely loathe the Elizabeth I running gag, I do like the way that the Doctor and the Royal Family have a history, and the the idea that they are very aware of who he is and what he does.
The one liners zing in this episode! Some of my favourites:
“Help us, Doctor, you’re our only hope.”
How very Star Wars!
“It’s always a big day tomorrow. We’ve got a time machine. I skip the little ones.”
I can’t go past “I’m the bloody queen.”
Oh and if like David and Tehani you didn’t watch these episodes via DVD, do go hunting for the extra scenes from this season–- one of them is a prelude to Amy floating in space and it’s wonderful, adding more warmth to the Eleven-Amy friendship. The other comes immediately after “Flesh and Stone” so don’t watch it quite yet…
“Victory of the Daleks”
Season five, episode three
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
The Nazi = Dalek parallel is once again at the forefront of this episode. And oh look! Yet more Daleks (they’re never really gone…). It’s a Gatiss-penned episode, and I am starting to think that he is big on spectacle, but not so much on the plot/making of sense thing – just me?
This is one that desperately needed another 5-10 minutes, I think, there are so many good scenes in it, but it doesn’t quite hang together. New Who is *so* fast-paced these days, and Moffat Who seems to be even faster and snappier and more packed with words than RTD Who – there are times when it just tries to push too much in.
Having said that there is a lot to like about this episode that I think often gets forgotten in a sea of fannish loathing. I like all the Churchill-in-the-bunker stuff, especially the odd friendship between Churchill and the Doctor which has obviously been going on for some time (he calls him dear!), and I will forgive a lot for that jammy dodger scene.
I am starting to think that I am too easily pleased! I rather liked this episode, I thought it provided a nice little twist on the whole Nazi/Dalek comparisons, and oh boy did it have a nice bit of spectacle! It doesn’t get much more exciting that Spitfires in space attacking a Dalek spaceship. If this had been a movie that alone would have been worth the price of admission.
Is this the first time we see Moffat use the Doctor (and Amy) to defeat evil with the power of love?
Yes, yes it is. If you don’t count “The Beast Below” which is more the ability to defeat evil with the power of spotting that a monster is capable of love and kindness…
While it was a bit of stretch to have the bomb disarmed by Bracewell’s belief in his humanity, I found that sequence quite moving and a perfect contrast to the inhumanity of the Daleks.
I really like Bracewell, and how much humanity is packed into his few scenes. We haven’t had enough of the Doctor playing with mad scientists in recent years and I love the way that Bracewell is so very certain that he created the “Ironsides.”
Ohhh sweetie, fandom hated those Daleks with a fiery vengeance. I didn’t mind the colours myself, but detested the new shape. Even the OPERATORS hated them – you’d think that they would give them more room, but instead they just provided more bulk to move around, so they were less useful.
Moffat said afterwards that the whole ‘new paradigm’ was the pitch he used to get the BBC to let them build more Dalek models, because they had hardly any left by the time he took over. A reboot meant lots of publicity, lots of merchandise (see how often the new Daleks are placed so you can’t see the fact that they have the wrong silhouette from side on) and the kids mostly liked them.
However, and I am TOTALLY going to spoil David here, because I don’t want him to suffer as we did, the new Daleks never looked as bad again as they did in this one. And the old Daleks never went away – from now on we’ll always get a fun cocktail of both.
They were a bit garish! I can’t say I was a big fan of them, either.
I do, however, like the whole concept of the Ironside Daleks, and of Churchill inadvertently signing up the Daleks to help him fight Nazis. The plot is actually really clever, and leads to the brilliant scene of Matt Smith’s Doctor trying to get the humble tea-serving Ironside to admit it’s an evil war machine. Unfortunately, and this is where the story lets it down, he succeeds. A longer and more involved plot would have allowed this tension to be drawn out a bit, especially with the benefit of a companion who can’t corroborate the Doctor’s insistence that the Daleks are not to be trusted.
However, having said that, I just described the plot of “The Power of the Daleks”, the very first Patrick Troughton story. And, well, “Dalek” a bit, too.
You have to admit, though, there is not much in the world that is more awesome than a Dalek carrying a teatray.
I liked how they weaved in some real quotes from Churchill to give some credence to the idea that he would have seized upon any weapon to defeat the Nazis. It is easy to forget how desperate Britain’s position was at that point in the war, and there is no doubt Churchill would have felt an incredible temptation to use the Dalek technology, and it makes the Doctor’s decision to destroy it all completely justified.
This is where the whole Dalek/Nazi thing can get a little dicey though. The writers need to communicate that in the Doctor Who universe the Daleks are in fact worse than the Nazis, as hard as that is to get the mind around. But, how do you do that without minimising an unspeakably terrible part of our real history and using that suffering as a plot device? I can definitely understand why some people are quite uncomfortable with the Nazi/Dalek parallels.
That’s a really good point, and I think it’s too complex an idea to deal with sensitively in this story – we don’t actually see Daleks do much that’s bad, so it’s all Doctorly rhetoric as far as Amy and the other humans are concerned, and very easy to come off as trite. I suspect Daleks are best kept away from humanity for a while and given the huge drawcard of them as characters it would be nice to see them saved for some massive futuristic space battles instead of serving to remind us yet again of what used to be a subtle and discreet metaphor for the ultimate evil.
Having said that, an important detail we could easily miss: Amy does not know what a Dalek is. Despite the fact that humans from her era would have seen them semi-regularly on the evening news (and indeed Blue Peter). What could this mean?
I can already see them building towards a season finale, throwing around clues like we saw with all the Bad Wolf foreshadowing. This is going to be fun!
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
“The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708”
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910”
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501